By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment
WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated
the grand romance of
Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love
Act the First:
the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling
Act the Second:
a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)
a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber
In the course of which are presented
Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires
the particulars of which are too numerous to impart
This new novella from the pen of K.J. Charles is a Regency Era road-trip undertaken in order to foil the elopement of an heiress and her unsuitable beau.
The couple has been corresponding secretly by placing messages in the pages of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a news-sheet dedicated to publishing what we would today call Lonely Hearts advertisements, and run by Mr. Theodore Swann, a jobbing writer who owns and runs the paper as well as scribbling romantic novels on the side.
Into his dingy City office one day, bursts Mr. Martin St. Vincent, a well-built, well-dressed and obviously well to-do black man, who is trying to discover the identity of the man who has been corresponding with the seventeen year-old daughter of his former owner. He’s blunt and not in the mood for humour, small-talk or any of Theo’s sales patter – and quickly cuts to the chase by asking Theo to put a price on his assistance.
Before he can discover the man’s identity however, the young lady elopes with her swain, and the family turns to Martin for help. A former slave, his relationship to the Conroys – who, by the standards of the day treated him well – is a difficult one, but he used to play with the young woman when she was a child and read her stories… and it’s for her sake that he agrees to try to find her and bring her home safely.
Realising he’ll need help – and having been reluctantly impressed with Theo’s quick wits and sharp tongue (among other things) – Martin asks Theo to go with him – and after they have agreed on a large fee, Theo agrees.
This is a novella of some 150 pages, but K.J Charles does such a superb job with the characterisation of her two principals and adds such depth to their personalities and stories that I came away from the novella feeing – almost – as though I’d read a full-length novel. There’s a spark of attraction between the two men from the start, and this builds gradually as they travel and get to know each other better, but what is so wonderful is the way the relationship between them grows alongside it. Martin is a former slave, and while he doesn’t feel he owes anything to his former master, he can’t help resenting the fact that he has been very lucky when compared to so many others:
“I was kept in the household, and freed on such generous terms that I have been able to prosper ever since, and how can I resent that?”
“That sounds to me the kind of generosity that could kill a man.”
“It is. It sticks in my throat like thistles, it chokes me.”
And Theo gets it. He sees Martin as a person, he believes he’s entitled to be angry:
“I, uh, feel strongly about gratitude. Forced gratitude, I mean, the kind piled on your debt as added interest. To be ground underfoot and then told to be thankful the foot was not heavier – I hate it.”
Their conversations are insightful and often humorous, showcasing many of the things I enjoy so much about this author’s work. Her research is impeccable and I always like the way she doesn’t just gloss over the social issues of the day. There wree moves towards abolition in England at this time, but there were still many people making money out of slavery; there was serious social inequality and no safety net for those who couldn’t afford even the most basic of life’s necessities; yet all these issues are addressed in a way that is not preachy or dry history lesson. Instead they arise naturally out of the direction taken by the story, the lives of the characters and the situations in which they live.
Both protagonists are attractive, likeable characters, although Theo is probably the more well-developed of the two, with a bit more light and shade to his persona. He’s quick witted, devious and sarcastic; and I really liked that his lady novelist alter-ego, Dorothea Swann, gives Ms. Charles the opportunity to make a few tongue-in-cheek observations about romantic fiction but also allows Theo to save the day.
Wanted, A Gentleman is beautifully written, the dialogue sparkles and Theo and Martin simply charmed me.
My only complaint is that the book ended too quickly.